The International Possum Brotherhood is back in session.
"The Red Green Show," a popular program on Canadian television and on public broadcasting in the U.S., came to an end in 2006 after 300 episodes. Steve Smith, who created the character Red Green, hung up his suspenders that year and donated the iconic fisherman hat that he wore in every episode to the University of Toronto library.
"When I finished doing the show I really put Red Green away," Smith said in a telephone interview in advance of his one-night appearance in Utah. The only reason Red Green would return was because of Smith's dedication to public television.
"Public television is going through a tough time right now," he said. "I think there are some people who want to see me in person. If I could use that demand to help public television, and keep my program on the air on public television, then that seems like a good idea to me."
So now Smith is back in the flannel shirt, has retrieved the hat from the library and is holding live mock meetings of the Possum Lodge Brotherhood as part of his one-man show touring the country. At each show, Smith donates all proceeds from ticket sales to the public television channel that still airs Red Green in syndication in that particular area -- in this case, KUED Channel 7 will benefit from the Kingsbury Hall show.
Smith's dedication to public television began in the early days of the show, after network executives put "Red Green" on ice.
"It was canceled in its second season and it was only due to viewer reaction that brought it back," Smith said. "So that changed me radically and personally in that I was only focused on the audience from that point forward."
Smith decided to move the show to public television in both Canada and the U.S., so that he could put together a show that was funny to audiences without worrying about how to appease network executives and advertisers.He spent more than a decade delighting public television audiences and has had a soft spot for public stations ever since.
Smith has a long history with television and sketch comedy. It was an early sketch show called "Smith & Smith," which he created with his wife, that lead to Red Green's first appearance -- as a spoof of a television fisherman named Red Fisher.
"I thought he had the attitude that nothing will bore you and I thought that was funny," said Smith. "So I was making fun of him. It was like in a 'Saturday Night Live' kind of way. The way that Tina Fey did Sarah Palin -- I did Red Fisher."
Before Tim Allen's grunting Tim "The Toolman" Taylor on "Home Improvement," audiences went crazy for Red Green. It came as a complete surprise to Smith.
"I thought 'The Red Green Show' would be a good stopgap for me," Smith said.
Since he figured that "The Red Green Show" would be gone in six months anyway, Smith says he created something that made him crack up. The show centered around Green, the fictional Possum Lake and an eccentric group of hillbilly friends who belong to "the Brotherhood." They played word games, offered rambling monologues and demonstrated mechanical projects that shouldn't be tried at home.
"Someone said the other day that Red Green is politically incorrect and completely inoffensive. That's an odd combination," Smith said. "I think the Red Green character is well intentioned and people warm to that."
During every show Red Green would attempt to create an elaborate project with used parts -- such as turning a riding lawn mower, ladder and a whole lot of duct tape into a dragster. This is where Red Green and Steve Smith cross paths, as Smith has a engineering background that started in college.
"I tried to talk them into a degree. I said I did four years in one. I was ahead of my time," Smith said. "I knew enough about everything to be dangerous. I see a clothes dryer -- that's an electric popcorn machine. It's just the way that I think."
When the show ended in 2006, it was Smith who pulled the plug. He simply felt that he had taken Red Green as far as possible, and that the show would not have gotten any better. Now that Red Green is back in stage form, Smith says don't call it a comeback.
"One of the things that I like with this one-man show is it's not me trying to go back and relive something five, 10 years ago," Smith said. "It's a whole new experience with me. I am really enjoying it."
l WHO: Red Green -- Wit and Wisdom Tour Phase 1
l WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday
l WHERE: Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
l TICKETS: $50-$75; $300 for two meet-and-greet passes and seats